Yosemite: The Four Mile Trail…
It was almost eight years before I could convince someone else to hike with me in Yosemite (after the Panorama Trail back in the summer of 2006). I suspect no one wanted to be a party to my suicide. For a year, I mapped out hikes and studied maps and read hiking books on the hikes and when it came down to it, I could only get three of our party of 6 to join me on one hike; my brother, a cousin and his son; this hike is the Four Mile Trail. My cousin drove the four of us up to Glacier Point then we all hiked down.
This hike is one of the less strenuous hikes (if you are just going down it is labeled as “easy” and 2 and half hour hike). It is definitely “strenuous” if you are going both up and down. Contrary to its name, this hike is between 4.4 and 4.8 miles depending on who or what you believe. The trail was 4 miles long when it was carved out by James McCauley back in early 1870’s who got a contract from the State to put in a toll road up to Glacier Point. This was at the request of the local valley Innkeepers to help increase tourism. McCauley also put in a hotel, of sorts, which he immediately put up for sale. It was called “Mountain House.” Neither it, nor the Glacier Point Hotel (erected in 1917), ever did very well, financially, due to the short season (snow kept the place closed most of the year). When they both burnt down in July of 1969, they were never rebuilt. Anyway, in 1929, the trail was re-worked to make it a bit gentler (and, as it happens, longer).
The trailhead on the valley floor is just few hundred feet east of the Sentinel Beach picnic area off of Southside Drive. It was placed here because, at the time, this is where the Yosemite Village was located (The Chapel was built here in 1879 originally but relocated to its present location in 1901).
At Glacier Point, the trail begins just past the gift shop and travels through a small forest of white furs and sugar pines in a small “bowl” before you get to the rim and start the trek down the side of the cliffs. This part of the hike actually goes up hill a bit (maybe a half mile) before starting on the descent to the valley floor. The view is really the calling card for this hike and most enjoyable when hiking down. I would not recommend it to any one that that has even a mild case of acrophobia. Though it is not a sheer drop, it almost is. It is very much like the view from Glacier Point, except from different angles and without a retaining rail.
If I had thought about it at all, I would have expected most of the hikers would be couples or families or even a group of guys (like us) out to get some air. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that hikers were mostly young girls (mid to late twenties) hiking in groups of 2 to 4. How about that! On this hike, the scenery came to us!
Very quickly, we came upon a vantage point of Half Dome and a view of the hanging rock that you’ll see in old photos of women in long dresses doing a jig or some one parked with his Stanley Steamer. The trail runs along the rim for, maybe, a mile or so before beginning the first set of switchbacks. About 2 miles into the hike is a short, 220-foot detour to Union Point, which has a grand outlook down the valley. There was a comical moment we experienced at Union Point. There is a free standing rock between Union Point and the towering Sentinel Rock. It may be better labeled as a boulder. It is pretty much inaccessible. I mean you can’t just walk over to it. You need to hike down a ravine then scale the rock to get to the top…and you have to go off trail to do it. Well, someone did it. On the top of the boulder was a small toy horse in a galloping pose!
After another mile or so, there is another vantage point of the “flat-iron” look of Sentinel Rock. To be clear, almost every step of the way provides fabulous vistas of the valley floor and the various items on the north rim, not the least of which is Yosemite Falls. On this particular trip, the falls were almost completely dry. This provided a nice view of a scene not normally visible. There is a cave behind Yosemite Falls. Without the falls, the cave is quite identifiable.
I am sure that no matter what shape you’re in, there is someone in better shape and you WILL meet them on the trail. In my case, that is not hard, but the magnitude of the fitness of some of the people I met up with is a constant amazement to me. I ran across one young girl – she might have been in her mid-twenties — (actually, she ran past me) when I was just about to Union Point, she was jogging up the trail! A couple hours later, she jogged past me again jogging down the trail!
Would I take the hike again? Sure. We started late on this hike (at about 11:30 AM). It took me about 5-hours. Though I was dragging near the end of the hike, I don’t think I’d like to move any faster. I think 1 mile per hour is good for me with the stops for pictures. In fact, if I was in better shape, I might even move more slowly. The temperature took its toll as well. It was in the high 80s or maybe even the low 90s. I took 4 bottles of water. But this hike is easily a 6-bottle hike, especially considering the heat. I would plan to start about 7 or 8 AM.